Rhode Island Injury Lawyer Blog

It has been an exceptionally difficult month for Massachusetts State troopers. In the past five weeks alone, five state troopers have been injured on duty by drunk drivers. In one case, Sgt. Doug Weddleton was killed in an accident caused by a drunk driver. In the most recent incident, a thirty-three year old Massachusetts trooper was injured while writing a ticket for an uninvolved Brockton woman, Fatima Baptista.

In light of this increased string of drunk driving incidents, the Massachusetts Police Union is seeking extra patrols on the roads to identify impaired drivers before they cause injury. The union believes that more patrols will increase drunk driving arrests and keep dangerous drivers off the road.

It is important to remember that .08 is not a very high standard for DUI, but it is the law in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Even a few drinks can impair your ability to drive and subject you to arrest for drunk driving. Additional penalties will be added to your case if you injury, or God forbid, kill someone while operating under the influence.

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The Rhode Island Court System saw a decline in both civil and criminal cases in 2009 as compared to 2008. The number of civil jury verdicts was down as was the number of Superior Court felony filings. To no surprise, the Worker’s Compensation Court also saw a heavy decrease in activity. Given that 10-15% of the State is unemployed, one would expect to see a drop in work-related injuries.

Unfortunately, there was an increase in domestic abuse filings. This may be attributed to our poor economy and high level of unemployment. The current atmosphere creates high level of family tension and drives some people to drink heavily which can lead to an increase in domestic abuse. The Supreme Court also saw an increase in the number of appeals filed.

Some numbers from the annual report are available here.

The numbers are not greatly different and the decline can be attributed, most likely, to the usual ebb and flow that occurs year to year. As a matter of fact, there have already been a great number of civil jury verdicts in the first half of this year as compared to 2009.

Several hundred RI women were implanted with non FDA approved IUD devices (a form of birth control) at some of the biggest OB-GYN practices in the State. It is a story that I have written about in the past and which seems to continue to grow. An up to date list of doctors who used non FDA approved IUD devices is available from the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Today I had the pleasure and good fortune to be interviewed by Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly as they prepare an article on this very subject. We discussed whether the actions of these doctors amounts to medical malpractice and what options the victims may have in seeking compensation. Any medical malpractice case requires both medical negligence and damages. While the facts surrounding this story suggest medical negligence, the extent of the injuries sustained has yet to be determined. I believe that this is a medical battery and a procedure performed outside of the scope of the implied consent. Therefore, there is some value in the case, but it may not be a lot of money.

What these doctors need to fear is a patient coming forward who became pregnant while on the non approved IUD device. In that medical malpractice claim for unwanted pregnancy, the doctor or facility is potentially liable for the entire cost of raising that child to the age of majority which as we all know is hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As I continue to tell the female victims who call my office: 1) contact the RI Department of Health; 2) contact a primary care physician or other trustworthy OB-GYN; 3) seek alternate forms of birth control and do not rely on the IUD device because it may fail.

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The Study which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that many doctors will not report their colleagues who are clearly unfit to practice medicine. Doctors are able to report to work drunk or while addicted to drugs with little fear of retribution. Even outright incompetence is rarely reported by other doctors.

In the study, 17% of the doctors surveyed had DIRECT knowledge of an incompetent or drug addicted physician in their workplace. Of those doctors, one third failed to report their knowledge to superiors. Among the reasons given for failing to act: belief that someone else will take care of it; that nothing will be done; retribution for being a whistle blower. One fifth of all doctors having direct knowledge of drug or alcohol abuse is a very large number. The number of physicians who may suspect that their colleague is on drugs or incompetent will be much higher.

The American Medical Association holds that it is an ethical requirement for any doctor with direct knowledge of mental impairment or incompetence of another doctor to report such knowledge. Unfortunately, too many incompetent doctors continue to work every day.

Despite extensive training and preparation, doctors do make mistakes every day leading to medical malpractice.

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For those who have joined the ranks of tort reformers under the misguided belief that it will somehow save our deplorable health care system, or for those who chastise plaintiff attorneys for no particular political agenda, I am here to expose hypocrisy wherever it occurs.

Plaintiff attorneys are the last defense against giant corporations which place profit over safety. Plaintiff attorneys are the reason the Ford Pinto is off the road, that asbestos is no longer used in construction, that unsafe prescription medications are recalled, and that cigarettes now come with warning labels. Yet some still cling to the stereotype of the plaintiff attorney as ambulance chaser. One such misguided soul is John Stossel. This Fox broadcaster who believes that Enron symbolizes all that is right with the corporate system (no, that is not a typo!) is a staunch critic of plaintiff attorneys suggesting that we are both parasites and lawyers.

But, as it turns out, and I want to thank thepoptort.com for breaking the story, Mr. Stossel once sued a pro wrestler for pain and sufferring. Apparently, Mr. Stossel is not a fan of the wrestling industry either, and called one of the athletes a fake. This led to a skirmish and a lawsuit from the man who believes that plaintiff attorneys are parasites. For his suffering, Mr. Stossel received $200,000.00! It’s convenient that the system was there for him in his time of need, but what a tragedy should plaintiff attorneys attempt to protect the rights and well being of any one else!

Of Course, Mr. Stossel is not the only tort reform hypocrite. In fact, many of those who chastise the civil system and criticize plaintiff attorneys, are the first to phone their attorneys when something goes wrong. Take, for example, everyone’s favorite Alaskan mom, Sarah Palin. While she goes forward trying to limit BP’s exposure for their atrocious oil spill (again, not a typo) she continues to criticize what she calls “frivolous lawsuits” in the tort system. Except that Ms. Palin forgets she has threatened defamation suits against any reporter who dare question her politics or intelligence.

Surprisingly, there seems no limit to the number of tort reform hypocrites. Take Robert Bork, an ardent supporter of tort reform who filed suit against Yale University for a slip and fall on their property; or, Trent Lott, always clamoring for tort reform, but finding himself in a post-Katrina lawsuit because his insurance company refused to pay his claim for property damage.

I could extend this post indefinitely, but I will stop here. Nevertheless, I will continue to point out hypocrisy whenever and wherever I see it. Tort reform is a political platform with no basis or merit that exists only because it seems to catch people’s attention.

Some injury victims do not choose to pursue a personal injury claim. There may be a few reasons for this. Some reasons that I have heard include:

  • “I’m not comfortable with lawyers and courtrooms”
  • “It was just an accident…it happens”
  • “I don’t want to sue anyone and ruin their lives”

While all three topics might make a good blog post, this post is concerned with the third of the above reasons.

You should be aware that almost all personal injury claims whether auto accident, dog bite, slip and fall, product liability, or medical malpractice, are covered by some form of insurance. Insurance companies bear the costs of defending the case and paying out any potential settlement or jury verdict. The entire premise of the insurance industry is that everyone pay a small amount to help spread the risk when something serious happens. Therefore, it will most often not directly effect the person or corporation which the claim is made against.

Even if circumstances require a lawsuit to be filed to ensure that you recover an appropriate amount of money, the insurance company will pay all the defense and litigation costs. The defendant or defendant corporation will almost never have any out of pocket loss because you made a claim against them.

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I want to wish all friends, family, past and future clients a happy fourth of July and long weekend. Please be careful as this is a notoriously dangerous weekend for firework related injuries and car accidents. Stay safe and enjoy yourselves!

It seems the most obvious and important question and one that I am asked in every personal injury case, namely, how much is my personal injury claim worth? Regardless if resulting from an auto accident, motorcycle accident, slip and fall, or medical malpractice, all clients are curious what their case is worth.

The only easy answer to that question is to say: Your case is worth the amount a jury of your peers says that it is worth. Unfortunately, juries are wildly unpredictable and can return with a shockingly high award or an embarrassingly low judgment. Furthermore, waiting for a jury verdict requires several years of waiting and a long and expensive litigation process.

That said, experienced personal injury attorneys such as myself, consider a number of variables in determining a fair settlement value of your case. Attorneys and insurance companies consider recent jury verdicts in the State, recent settlements in the State, along with other variables to determine a fair value for the injury suffered. Therefore, attorneys and insurance adjusters will assign a value to the neck or back injury, fractured arm, or concussion. For instance, if a jury recently awarded $160,000 to a man who broke his leg in a truck accident, this may be a starting point for negotiations if you suffer a similar broken leg in an auto accident.

What are the other variables to consider? Among other things:

  • the strength of the liability case
  • cost of litigation
  • amount available through insurance
  • nature and severity of the injury

Of course, you are also entitled to lost wages and medical bills, future medical bills and permanent disability, if applicable.

If the injury you sustained is soft tissue in nature (neck and back pain) then your settlement will depend largely on the length and severity of your disability and whether there is diagnostic evidence (i.e. an MRI report showing injury) to help substantiate the claim. An experienced personal injury attorney, will know how to negotiate with an insurance company to obtain the highest value possible.

This should be understood as a shorthand version of how the value of your personal injury claim is determined. There are literally hundreds of variables that have to be considered and only a skilled and experienced attorney can use all of these variables to obtain the highest amount possible in settlement. Furthermore, the negotiating skills of an attorney are important as well as the attorney’s reputation for success.

The next time you ask your attorney: What is my case worth? do not be surprised if he or she is afraid to answer. It is because each personal injury case is so unique that it is hard to determine, especially early in the case, how much the injury is worth.

As a former insurance adjuster I have settled hundreds of personal injury cases of all levels of severity. I understand the full value of your case and how an insurance company will try to poke holes in your case to lower the final value. As a personal injury attorney, I have succeeded in obtaining excellent settlements for my clients often exceeding the amount they were hoping to receive.

Therefore, part of the answer to the question: How much is my case worth? depends on whether you hire the right attorney.

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After my recent post indicating that OB-GYN Associates is being investigated by the Rhode Island Department of Health, it now turns out that two more popular practices, Bayside OB-GYN and the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology, are now also under investigation. All three facilities are being investigated for using non FDA-approved IUD devices that were purchased from foreign countries, presumably for less money.

The IUD device is a form of birth control that is placed inside the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Non FDA approved devices may be ineffective in preventing pregnancy. All three facilities are now required to inform the patients that received the non FDA approved IUD.

This is a fascinating story and it is unclear how far this investigation might stretch. If you, a friend, or family member is or previously was a patient of these practices and became pregnant while under the IUD device, you may have a case for medical malpractice.

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I have written time and time again about the unique dangers faced by bicycle riders on the road. I am an avid bicyclist myself and am well aware of how dangerous it can be for bike riders to share the road with cars and trucks. Apparently, the Rhode Island General Assembly agrees. Spurred by the tragic death of Frank J. Cabral who was killed while riding a bike in Charlestown, the Rhode Island General Assembly has passed a law requiring motorists to drive a safe distance from bicyclists.

Frank Cabral’s girlfriend worked with the General Assembly to help ensure that some form of law passed. She proposed temporary loss of license, driver training, etc for anyone who hit a bicyclist on the road. The General Assembly fell far short of such severe penalties, but have now given the police authority to issue citations for $85 if they believe that a driver has endangered the safety and welfare of a bike rider.

Final approval was given to a legal requirement

that motorists may pass bicyclists only “at a safe distance,” which is defined as “sufficient to prevent contact with the person operating the bicycle if the person were to fall into the driver’s lane of traffic.”

Bicycle accidents are always incredibly dangerous because of the lack of safety equipment offered by vehicles. Fractures, head injuries, scarring, and even death, are common injuries in accidents between autos and bicycles.

Drivers must be on the look out for riders and be aware of the rules of the road. Bikers are authorized to ride in the street and should not ride on sidewalks which would be extremely dangerous for bikers and pedestrians. The fear of penalty for driving too closely to bikers may encourage drivers to maintain a proper lookout, especially in urban areas and around bike paths where bikers are likely to be prevalent.

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